Martha Cyr, PhD, executive director of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education Center and adjunct assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been elected a fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).
Founded in 1893, ASEE is composed of 400 engineering and engineering technology colleges and affiliates, more than 50 corporations, and numerous government agencies and professional associations dedicated to furthering education in engineering and engineering technology. The grade of fellow in ASEE is reserved for members with extraordinary qualifications and experience in engineering or engineering technology education or an allied field who have made important individual contributions. No more than one-tenth of one percent of ASEE members may be elected fellows in any given year. Cyr is the third WPI faculty members to receive the honor. John Orr, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and David DiBiasio, head of the Chemical Engineering Department, were elected fellows in 2009.
In addition to her fellowship award, Cyr was recently named chair-elect of the ASEE K12 and Precollege Engineering Division. The division seeks to open the doors to engineering careers to young people by promoting engineering thinking and practice in formal and informal educational settings for pre-K through high school aged students and promoting scholarship on engineering education.
"As a nationally recognized authority on K-12 engineering educational outreach, Martha Cyr is richly deserving of this distinguished honor," Arthur Heinricher, dean of undergraduate studies at WPI, said. "She has made innumerable contributions to programs at the local, regional, and national level that have helped address a critical need to engage young people in the STEM disciplines and improve classroom education in these fields."
Cyr joined WPI in 2003 as director of the university's K-12 outreach programs. She oversaw a large and diverse array of STEM programs targeted at students and teachers in elementary, middle, and secondary schools, including programs for girls and students from underrepresented minorities and programs that provided training and classroom resources for teachers. In 2011, she was named the inaugural director of WPI's STEM Education Center, with her new position made possible, in part, by an endowed gift of $1 million from Douglas Noiles '44, and his wife, Edna.
The center helps address a critical shortage of math and science teachers and seeks to improve the preparedness of teachers in primary and secondary schools. It does this by preparing students for teaching careers that use leading-edge teaching methods and offering current teachers rigorous content-based courses leading to master’s degrees; by developing training modules and tools that help K–12 educators and administrators better engage young people in STEM disciplines; and by involving in-service educators in research with WPI faculty members in STEM disciplines.
Cyr has been working with teachers on the integration of engineering in K-12 classrooms since 1995. Before joining WPI she was director of the Center for Engineering Educational Outreach at Tufts University, where she had also taught engineering for nine years. There, with a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation's National Digital Library Program, she worked with researchers at other universities to develop TeachEngineering, an extensive online resource for K-12 educators. She was also principal investigator on a $1.5 million NSF award that funded the Tufts Engineering the Next Steps (TENS) Project and a $1.75 million award from the NSF Teacher Enhancement Program for a pre-college engineering project for teachers.
She also advised the Massachusetts Department of Education (MDOE) to help create frameworks for a statewide K-12 engineering curriculum. In 2000, she became a consultant to the MDOE on the engineering component of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), the state's mastery test. In 2005 Project Lead The Way (PLTW) named WPI its Massachusetts state affiliate to provide pre-engineering curriculum training modules for the first time in the commonwealth. Today more than 60 Massachusetts schools participate in PLTW and Cyr serves as the state PLTW affiliate director.
The implementation of PLTW in Massachusetts has been supported by awards totaling $500,000 from the Linde Family Foundation, which was part of the more than $3.7 million in awards from foundations and government agencies for which Cyr has served as principal investigator or co-principal investigator. These include a $1.1 million gift from Douglas and Edna Noiles to support STEM Education Center programs for teachers; a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the Massachusetts Technician Educational Collaborative; and a $620,000 award from the Massachusetts Math and Science Partnerships for learning communities for middle school mathematics.
Cyr has been a member of the board for the Central Massachusetts STEM Network since 2005 and has served on the executive board of the Engineering in Massachusetts Collaborative, the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Assessing Technological Literacy, and the American Society for Engineering Education K-12 Advisory Board. She has published extensively on STEM outreach and has frequently been an invited speaker on engineering education at national forums. She was a member of board of the Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN) for six years and is currently a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society of Engineering Educators, and the National Science Teachers Association. She received the Outstanding Teaching Award and the Special Recognition Award from the Tufts Mechanical Engineering Department.
Cyr earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at the University of New Hampshire and a master of science and PhD in the field at WPI. She also worked as a thermal engineer for Data General Corporation and held a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program fellowship for three years, working on computational thermal fluids research on the impact of liquid pooling on the energy transfer within a heat pipe in microgravity.